No solution in sight to problems of static road space, mushrooming vehicles
CHENNAI: 6.30 p.m. The wail of a siren is almost drowned in the blare of horns at a traffic signal as an ambulance tries to get out of a gridlock. In the vehicle, a patient battles for life.
Tough luck. But this is arterial Anna Salai. The driver heaves a sigh of relief only after inching his way out to rush the patient to a hospital in Teynampet.
"It is always a tough call, especially during peak hours," says M. Ravi, an ambulance driver.
In the estranged time-distance relationship prevailing in the city, it takes more than 30 minutes to cover the six-km stretch from Spencer's Plaza to Nandanam during peak hour.
Today distance is not calculated in terms of km but by the time required for transit.
And the more time a vehicle idles on the road, the higher the wastage of money and fuel. Oil industry officials estimate the monthly retail sales of petrol in the city at 18,000 kilolitres of petrol and 12,200 kilolitres of diesel. Add to this, the bulk diesel sales (mainly to MTC) of around 10,000 kilolitres a month.
Bad roads, nearly two-dozen vehicle types of varying speeds, intemperate driving and a lack of lane discipline add to the city's traffic chaos. Several lives are cut short on the city's inadequate roads. The number of fatal road accidents recorded in the last two months is 145, as on March 12, 2007. (See graphic)
During the day, there is a pile up during office hours at the Kodambakkam High Road, Nungambakkam High Road intersection, the Gemini Circle and all intersections on Anna Salai. Traffic hold-ups are frequent around Dr. Guruswamy Bridge in Chetpet and the Tirumangalam-100-feet road junction with many motorists jumping signals.
The jam holds up traffic moving towards Ambattur, Red Hills, Anna Nagar and Jawaharlal Nehru Road.
At night, rules are thrown to the wind.
Before leaving for work, commuters these days tune in to popular FM channels for traffic updates on hold ups at important intersections such as the Purasawalkam Gangadeeswarar Koil Street, Wall Tax Road, Thanga Salai Junction in Vallalar Nagar, S.N. Chetty Road in Royapuram and Nelson Manickam Road junction at the Loyola College subway.
Each category of road users blames the other for the problem.
Shanmugam, a call taxi driver, says two-wheeler riders cause half the confusion during office hours. "They are confident they can weave their way through the traffic quickly. No lane discipline."
Motorists must learn discipline for traffic management to work, says Jothi Bohra, a young two-wheeler user. When one person jumps a signal or cuts off another motorist, accidents are inevitable, she says.
Traffic police say the bad condition of the service lanes retard slow moving vehicles, which choose the main carriageway adding to the traffic burden.
Traffic planners are also under fire for a `blinkered approach' to infrastructure development. With vehicle density swelling by the day and road space remaining more or less static, the solutions have been too few to prove effective on a long-term basis.
According to M.S. Srinivasan, former advisor (Roads) to the State government, planners have not looked into increasing urbanisation and the resultant rise in vehicle population while planning for the city.
"We have the country's third largest urban centre in Tamil Nadu. Urbanisation leads to a large vehicle population. However, the government has not looked into the phenomenon for many years."
Newer residential complexes and vehicle manufacturing companies are mushrooming. But the growth has not resulted in increasing road space.
"The management (of roads) adopted so far is not good enough as we have saturated the use of all roads. All major arterial roads need expansion. Converting roads to one-ways and installing medians can only do so much. We need plans for pedestrian movement as well."
Nearly Anna Arivalayam, Teynampet, the new four-lane system has created a problem.
Staff at the AGS office say the system has been introduced without providing a service lane for office-goers. As a result, around 10,000 employees with DMS, AGS, RBI, Anna Arivalayam, Satyam and Sun TV find it difficult to take a left from the lane for motorcycles near the median.
(Inputs from N. Ravi Kumar, R. Sujatha, Swahilya, Kannal Achuthan and Meera Srinivasan).